Apology of a Rudin Apologist
Reading the accounts of Scott Rudin’s present and former employees, of the abuse they suffered and were expected to endure at Scott Rudin Productions, has broken my heart.
In the roughly twenty years that I regularly collaborated with Scott, I worked with and got to know many of his employees — a generation of them — from the VPs, to the researchers, to the assistants who worked the phones. I remember Kevin Graham-Caso — he was a sweetheart — and it was a gut-punch to learn, from his brother David’s recent video, about his suicide, following years of struggle with PTSD.
Twenty years is a long time to collaborate with an abuser. My impulse is to excuse, exonerate or at any rate minimize my complicity by saying that personally I never saw or heard anything approaching the level of the most egregious incidents reported on vulture.com and elsewhere, that I never heard Scott use vulgar or demeaning epithets, or saw Scott cause physical injury. I heard stories of Scott’s tantrums and vindictiveness, but not of smashed hands and people pushed out of moving cars.
But I knew enough. I regularly, even routinely, heard him treat his staff, from the new kid doing the coffee run to the guy just under Scott on the SRP organizational chart, with what I would call a careful, even surgical contempt, like a torturer trained to cause injuries that leave no visible marks. And I saw him throw a pencil, once, at an assistant as the young man fled Scott’s office and Scott’s shouting. The pencil struck the back of the assistant’s head, eraser end first, and fell to the carpet. A minute later, Scott called me into his office, and we started talking, as if nothing untoward had happened, about whatever script we were working on at the time.
As if nothing had happened. In those five words, the recipe for a culture of abuse, in families, in the workplace, and in the world.
I saw him throw the pencil, I’m certain, only because he didn’t know I was out there in the waiting area. In my presence, Scott’s behavior was relatively controlled, his criticisms and castigations were offered in a tone that could pass for “bantering.” Sometimes when he didn’t like what he was hearing — a party couldn’t be reached, a restaurant had closed early — his face would flush with anger and I could see him working hard to keep a lid on himself. His eyes would widen near to popping and he would narrow them again. He had a way of clearing his throat compulsively, twitching his head this way, that way, as though working to keep it from exploding. And every once in a while, the description of an incoming call or message, conveyed to him by an assistant over the intercom, would displease him enough that he got up, excused himself, and went into an adjacent conference room to take or place the call. I would hear him unload, his words muffled, the victim or object of his diatribe unknown, and then a few minutes later he would return, offering no explanation or excuse, and we’d get back to work, as if nothing had happened.
I knew enough to discern the pall that reliably settled over the offices whenever Scott was around, as he almost always was, and the contrasting sense of lightness if I stopped by to meet with one of the development guys when Scott was in London, say, or out for the day — not to mention the perpetual sunniness (relatively speaking) and ease that reigned in SRP’s Hollywood offices after he took up more or less permanent residence in New York toward the latter part of the 90s. “You seem good,” I remember saying to one of his LA development guys in that era, resuming work with him after an interruption of several months. “That’s because I’m here,” he replied brightly, “and Scott isn’t.”
I was born, as a screenwriter, under that oppressive shadow. Scott optioned my first original screenplay, in 1994, and before my first meeting with him I had already begun to hear the war stories and anecdotes from more experienced people who had worked with him. They seemed to accept, or resign themselves to accepting, Scott’s behavior, or at least to locate it at the extreme of a spectrum, of abusive behavior among powerful men (and a few women) in Hollywood, that they accepted. There are a lot of angry people making movies and television, and the culture of Hollywood, until now, has offered little in the way of discouragement to those who feel their status is a license to shout, curse, rant, and hurl invective or objects.
So I didn’t just know; I took it for granted, from the first. Scott was the way he was, Hollywood was the way it was, and to be a professional, to be a grown up in Hollywood, you could not take Scott’s behavior too seriously, even when it was unprofessional and juvenile. But that was just bullshit. To say “I took it for granted” is letting myself off too easily, because what I did, to ease my own conscience, was buy into, and thus help to perpetuate, the myth that professional and artistic success, encoded as “survival,” require submissiveness to abuse, encoded as “toughness.” I heard the scathing and acidulous comments, the generally but not always concealed or “offstage” shouting, the peremptory and often arbitrary orders and commands given without benefit of any but the most chilly or biting “please” or “thank you.” And for twenty years, on and off, I sat there as he dished it out to people who, over that period, grew ever younger, until any of them might have been one of my own children with a right to expect, or at least to hope, that I might use my voice, my privilege, my authority as a white man, as a person Scott respected, even as a father, to protect them, to speak up on their behalf, to say something like, “Hey, Scott, take it easy on the kid,” or, better, “It’s not okay to talk to people that way. Stop.”
I didn’t do that. I didn’t do anything but carry on, as if. I’m not proud of that. Let me state it more honestly: I’m ashamed. I regret, and I want to apologize for, my part in enabling Scott Rudin’s abuse, simply by standing by, saying nothing, looking the other way. I regret most of all that Kevin Graham-Caso is not here for me to tell him personally how sorry I am. Looking back through the emails he sent, arranging my travel and phone meetings with his volatile and unpredictable boss, remembering his voice on the phone, I can see and hear him walking on eggshells, taking the absurdly deferential, almost Victorian tone Scott insisted his assistants take with “the talent.”
lt’s not an excuse, or anything remotely like a justification, but I didn’t even break with Scott when, in 2010, he turned the fury, vitriol and vituperation against me, in a dispute over the terms of a deal, in a series of potent Rudin email bombs packed with nails, razor blades and personal insults. It wasn’t until some five years later, when he began — behind our backs — to demean and shit-talk my wife, that I finally drew a line, and resolved not to work with him again.
But it’s not enough to draw a line, however belatedly. You also have to point to it. You have to call people’s attention to it, and explain why it’s there, why you drew it. That’s another thing I did not have the courage or, to be completely honest, the inspiration or the vision, to do. It just did not even occur to me. Like so many but, thank God, not all of us, I left that feat of public bravery for other — less privileged — people to enact. I’m grateful to them, and I hope, but have no right to expect, that they’ll forgive me for my passivity and participation in the interlocking systems of dysfunction, bias and abuse that make, enable, reward and, worst of all, glorify the behavior for which, thanks to their courage, Scott Rudin is now being called to account.